A crowd passes Friday in front of the Kansas Statehouse as part of the National March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — A throng of angry queer and transgender children marched Friday evening on the Kansas Statehouse grounds in joyful defiance of legislators who promote state-sponsored discrimination.
As the crowd of 200 children and adults gathered on the south side of the Capitol, individuals stepped forward, one by one, to deliver speeches bubbling with love or rage or fear. Some had recently come out, some had never spoken up, and some were high on gender euphoria.
The recurring themes at the demonstration, which was part of the National March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy: They refuse to go back into the closet, and they are eager to vote.
Ian Benalcázar, a 13-year-old trans boy from Lawrence who dressed in a Pinkie Pie cardigan, told the crowd: “I am what they are scared of.”
“I can’t believe that I, a child, has to explain why I deserve to live, to breathe and to be happy,” Benalcázar said. “I should be worrying about my grades, not whether or not I’ll be a victim of a hate crime on my way to the bus stop.”
Cassandra Robinson, who will be 10 years old next week, appeared in a T-shirt that reads: “inspired by the STRONG WOMEN in my life.” Standing on the south steps of the Statehouse, the Topeka resident directed her comments to the legislators who work inside.
“This is kind of my first time doing this, so sorry if I stutter or something,” Robinson said. “It’s stupid how the people in there get to decide how we live our lives and how we do stuff. And I feel like all of the cis people should mind their own business, and they should put some LGBTQ in charge.”
The GOP-dominated Legislature this year has advanced numerous bills that target transgender children, including proposals that would restrict gender-affirming care and ban transgender kids from playing with their cisgender peers. A “women’s bill of rights” would establish a politically charged definition of “woman” to exclude transgender women from gender-specific public spaces.
“Those in power who are so desperate to pass this cruel legislation can no longer be excused by ignorance,” said Fable Briggs of Lawrence. “The data is being presented to them over and over again. They simply do not care what’s true or right. They care only for the comfort of those who will vote for them.”
Rep. Tobias Schlingensiepen, a Topeka Democrat who participated in the march, said lawmakers should be working together to solve problems everybody faces instead of putting targets on people’s backs in order to score political points.
“You gotta help us out, wherever you’re from,” Schlingensiepen said. “You need to get politically engaged. You have gotta find ways to vote people out who don’t care about you, and who keep bringing these hateful bills to the floor in the House, and who are using you to divide and conquer voters.”
Raiden Gonzalez said it was disappointing to see hurtful legislation being debated in Kansas and other states around the country.
“You’re seeing a lot of young people who are more just down to earth, trying to be heard,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s really disappointing, and the Kansas Legislature should be ashamed of themselves.”
A participant in the March 31, 2023, March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy at the Kansas Statehouse holds a sign that reads: "Make no mistake, they are killing us." The demonstration was a response to legislative attacks on the LGBTQ community, including the ban on transgender athletes. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
People in the crowd held signs that read: “I want my friends to live,” “make no mistake / they are killing us,” “I’d rather have a trans kid than a dead one,” “support your sisters / not just your cis-ters,” “break the binary,” “trans lives are more important than cis feelings.”
One sign said, “F*** your KS SB180,” a reference to the women’s bill of rights, and featured a drawing of an individual raising a middle finger.
After the series of speeches, the crowd marched around the perimeter of the Statehouse grounds. Their chants could be heard from a couple of blocks away:
“Trans lives matter.”
“We’re here. We’re queer. We’re not going anywhere.”
“Vote them out.”
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